I got my first dog when I was around three. My parents brought home a fuzzy, little Shih Tzu to be my Only-Child companion. I was delighted. The dog? Not so much. As I recall, Sweet-Sue-the-Shih-Tzu (so named because every time I told my Grandma I was getting Shih Tzu, she would tease, “A Sweet Sue?” And I finally got tired of trying to explain–I remember this so clearly–and said, “No, but that is her name, so that’s fine.”) wasn’t crazy about Lane the Pain.
I wasn’t hurtful to her. I just wanted to dress her up, stroll her around in my baby buggy, and sleep with her. She only wanted to chase my house shoes, nip my heels, and hide from my exuberant love. I was a girly-girl with doll-baby fantasies of pet ownership. Susie was a feminist and wasn’t having any of my Madame Alexander doll dress and bonnet madness.
Frosty, our Samoyed Husky, joined the family when I was about 9. Her owners were allergic to her, so she came to live with us. Frosty, and I bonded and she was my best friend for years to come. I would put on my roller skates, put her on her leash, and she would drag me around the neighborhood. I would perform circus acts with her, having her (my white lion) jump through my hula hoop. When I cried, she would offer up her warmth and support. She was my furry soulmate and I loved that dog.
After Frosty died, when I was 16 (Sweet Sue had kicked it not long after Frosty had joined the family), I bought Tuxedo Sam in a pet store for $50. He was a beautiful Border Collie mix, and just as smart and sweet a dog as you could hope for. Dad brought Pete, a lab mix, home one day, and they were pretty good buddies.
I found Wart on the side of the road, nearly hairless, one ear chewed up, crawling with red ants. That little guy was pretty devoted to me, and used to ride around in the car with me.
All three of them were gone by the time I was 22.
When Grandma and Boom came to live with us, they brought their Boxer, Rusty, who was on her last, wonderful leg. Bryan and I brought another Boxer, Ella Bella Bon home, when she was 5 weeks old. She extended Rusty’s life with good companionship, and my grandmother adored her.
Ella was four when Thor was born, and he fell in love with her gradually. She died last summer, and he’s been mooning for a dog since then. B and I have said no, and maybe, and one day, and no, and never, and Thor (as little boys do) has persisted.
“What would you do with a dog?” I have asked. “Love it,” he has answered. Good lord. What do you say to that?
Friday, I was sitting in the car, waiting to pick him up from school. NPR was detailing new information about the number of children who had been murdered. 20 children who were all my son’s age. I watched through tears as my son ran up to a man who had walked his dog up to the school. He appeared to be chattering to the dog, loving his head and petting his rump and stroking his ears–tip to tail. He laid himself across the dog’s back, hugging and kissing him, rubbing his cheek against that stiff Boxer fur. You can’t buy that kind of love.
We were out at a friend’s lakehouse on Saturday, watching Thor play with someone else’s dog. I was thinking about the last conversation Thor and I had shared about one. He had said, “I’m so lonely, Mama. I just want a dog for a friend.”
Our friend said something about how much her son loves their dog and I looked over at B. I said, “We have to get him a dog.” He said, “If it is free and lives outside.” I said, “Okay.”
The next day, I went over to Mom’s to put together a Christmas present that required assembly. We made a run over to the vitamin store and the new makeup store (getting stuck in Cowboy traffic–go ‘Boys!) and peeked in at the pet place next door, where it seemed like a hundred pups were up for adoption at half price. Kismet. My mom paid the $40.
Right now, a beautifully tempered, cracking smart, snuggle bug of an Australian Shepherd mix is hiding out at my Mom’s house, waiting for Christmas morning, when he will meet his Boy.
I asked Thor this morning, “If you had a dog, what would you need to do for it?”
“Clean up its poop,” was his first response, and it came with a laugh. Then, “Feed him. Take him for walks. Play with him. Teach him to do stuff.” As he rattled off his list, his face got brighter and brighter.
I agreed with him. We talked about training dogs and what makes them happy. I cannot tell you how forward I am looking to his face when we present his new friend to him.
If his connection to this pup is anything like mine was to Frosty, we’ll have given him the best gift possible, outside of the older brother he’d like to have–and that ship sailed!